As an ecologist it feels right that the first time that I speak at General Synod is about environmental matters.
I believe that seeking to heal our broken planet, and tread more gently on it, goes to the very heart of Christian discipleship. This debate is not a luxury in the ministry of the Church; it is an imperative for the mission of the Church.
One of my distinguished predecessors at Norwich was the polar explorer and glaciologist Bishop Launcelot Fleming who steered the Antarctic Treaty Act through parliament. Air bubbles trapped in polar ice sheets give us insights from the past. These tiny time capsules let us measure the composition of atmospheric gases from 750,000 years ago until the present day. The evidence is startling. In 1850 the level of CO2 was 280 part per million, as it had been for the previous 10,000 years. Civilisation developed in this steady climate. Since 1850 that has risen to over 400 parts per million. The last time the world experienced this level of CO2 in the atmosphere was 5 million years ago when temperatures were 4C warmer than today and sea levels 20m higher. This is the future that awaits us.
And we also face a crisis of biodiversity. We only need to think about how often we clean our car windscreens compared to 25 years ago to realise the catastrophic loss of insect life.
But I do worry about a narrative of gloom. In many places it’s leading to inertia. What can I do, we ask? And, worryingly, many young people are being consumed by ecological anxiety.
Can we also say, alongside the lament and protest, something from deep within our Scriptures about a hope-filled ecology of wonder and gratitude?
Might we wonder at the beauty of God’s creation and be motivated to protect it?
Might we respond well by being overcome with gratitude to God for the rich diversity of creation and treasure them?
This is why I’m giving every Confirmation candidate a hazel tree to plant – so that they, like Mother Julian, will one day hold a hazelnut in the palm of their hand and wonder and give thanks.
Our sisters and brothers in the Anglican Church of South Africa are sent out during the season of creation with these words:
Go out into the world rejoicing, and encounter the Creator who waits to meet you there; rejoice in its richness and diversity and live as those who praise God for its bounty.
Taking this motion seriously in 16,000 local places might just rekindle the care of creation at the heart of being a disciple of Jesus Christ and so be a way of evangelism.